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With senior service directors from across the state looking on, the House of Delegates’ Seniors, Children and Family Issues Committee on Thursday passed a bill to increase the reimbursement rates for meals for seniors for the first time since 2009.

As amended by the committee, House Bill 2625 will raise the reimbursement rate for congregate meals to $6.75 and in-home meals to $7.25. Rates are currently $5.25 for congregate and $5.75 for in-home.

The bill also allows for the reimbursement rate to increase according to the consumer price index published on Dec. 31 of the preceding year. The rate will not decrease should the CPI decrease.

The rate would go into effect in July and continue until 2024. Meals are reimbursed from lottery revenue.

Senior services provide more than 2 million meals to senior citizens in West Virginia in a year, said William Carpenter, executive director of the Lincoln County Opportunity Center and president of West Virginia Directors of Senior and Community Services.

Senior services are doing a lot with very little, Carpenter told the committee. Just like any other business, its insurance, utility and other costs are rising, but funding from the state has evaporated.

“We are not just simply meal programs or where seniors go to play bingo,” Carpenter said.

The programs no longer receive funding for equipment, and many of the hot/cold trucks the centers use to transport meals are aging. Carpenter said he recently spent $4,000 to fix the cold unit on a truck that probably isn’t even worth $4,000.

The directors have sent a letter to Gov. Jim Justice requesting funding for new trucks.

Many senior centers are now just open four days a week as a way to cut costs, including Wayne County, Carpenter said. The centers also provide more shelf-stable food boxes to seniors to sustain them for longer.

Funding for other programs the senior centers provide also hasn’t changed in years, such as for a respite program for Alzheimer and dementia caregivers.

Carpenter said the state needs to strengthen its meal and in-home programs. It also saves the state money if seniors can stay in their homes as opposed to a nursing home.

HB 2625 will now go to the Finance Committee.

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